I'm about ten minutes out of Las Vegas on SW flight 484, my life in the capable hands of Captain Delsing. We're on our way back to Kansas City, and as is usually the case, I've got mixed emotions. I'm plum tuckered out from 4-days of Vegas. But it's impossible (or improbable for those not prone to melodrama, such as myself) not compare the emotions on the return flight compared to the inbound trip. On the to McCarren there's the excitement of the unknown. Will this be the trip where I hit it big' Will this be the one where I leave entire stake behind' What unique characters will I meet, or unforgettable experiences will come my way. Well, I can tell you, in my upcoming trip report I'll be happy to share a little bit of both with you.

This trip report is going to have a different format than my previous ones. In the past I've kept a running diary of each day's activities, and then posted one per day. I'm not going to do that this time because the bulk of my time was spent at a school improvement conference that was being hosted at the Riviera Convention Center. The seminars pretty well occupied my time from 7:00- 4:00 each day. This was the first time I've tried to mix business with pleasure, and for the most part I think it was a good combination. As a matter of fact, I am actually a little bit unrealistically proud of my colleague and myself who attended all of the sessions conference. This is more than I can say for my fellow convention goers. At Thursday morning's opening session we estimated that there between 900-1000 attendees. At the end of final session, which took place Sunday morning, I counted a grand total of 93. That's a retention rate somewhere in the vicinity of 10%. Though I'm not a slot player, even I know that's not a very good return rate. Nonetheless, I tried to keep my mind on business when appropriate, and change gears after the day's meetings were over. Assuming that most of you, hell, all of you, don't want to be regaled in the latest developments in the field of student assessment, I'll mainly stick to the Vegasy part of the trip.

In the coming installments I'll explain how I saw Jesus hovering over the strip (Ballys to be specific), witnessed a one-handed blackjack player totally fluster a well-intentioned dealer, how losing felt like winning, and my encounter of the third kind with a shark. Through in a little Wayne Newton and Mystere for flavor, mix it all together, and you get another memorable trip.

I've already told you about trying to mix business with pleasure, but this trip was also unique in another way. For the past few years I've gone out to The Meadows about twice a year. Because my wife is somewhat less enthusiastic about Vegas than her hopelessly hooked husband, I've taken the past several trips by myself. I know in past trip reports some of you have commented about how unusual this is for a couple reasons. One, that my wife allows me these 3-4 all-by-lonesome trips, and two, that Vegas can be enjoyed without the company of others. To reply to the first, the only thing I can say is that I'm married to one of the bestest people in the world. When people suggest that I've 'married up,' I don't put up any argument. We use to go out together, and some where along the way her appetite was sated, while mine remained ravenous. Regarding the second, I find the freedom that comes with traveling by oneself to be exhilarating. It is truly one of the few times where I get a chance to be in complete charge of my daily schedule. No business intrusions, no kids to worry about, or any other of life's little interventions. It's a good thing.

However, on this trip my wife agreed to come with me. She decided to come out and accompany one of the secretaries from our office who was coming out to Vegas for only the second time. The plan was for them to spend their days together to the tourist thing while my colleague and myself were at the conference. Also setting this trip apart was that my co-worker who attended the conference with me was coming out to Vegas for the first time.

I knew this was going to be a different kind of trip when the ladies decided that one of things they wanted to do was see Wayne Newton. Now don't get me a wrong, I have nothing against this one time high-pitched cherub, but unlike Mrs. Clark Griswold, my taste for Mr. Donkeshan falls something short of Wayneiac proportions. Though I would rather be at the blackjack tables than one in the Wayne Newton Theater, I decided that I would try to make the most of what was certain to be some new experiences. We also have purchased tickets for Mystere, which although it was something I would probably never attend if I were out by myself, I nonetheless was looking forward to.

Tune in to Part 2 to find out how we took the town by storm during our first night.

Part II: Hit the Ground Sleeping

I knew things would be different from the moment we stepped off the plane. As I mentioned in Part I, I was traveling with three ladies whose Vegas experience ranged from veteran to rookie. Our pleasantly uneventful SW flight from KC landed on time at McCarren at 7:30 Wednesday night. Now most experienced travelers know that checking your bags is a sucker's bet. Vegas time being such a previous commodity, I never check bags. I figure the 10-15 minutes I save in the airport allows for a head start on developing of my blackjack portfolio. But then again, I've never traveled with three ladies before. Though I admittedly have little patience for wasting time any time, doing so in Vegas our to be a federal crime. State crime at least. We seemed to wait an eternity (it was more like 20 minutes, but you get the idea), for our bags to emerge from the luggage pit. But finally, with bags in tow, we boarded the Alamo shuttle, used the Quicksilver kiosk, and within minutes were heading down to the Golden Nugget in our Green Intrepid.

My original plan was to take LV Blvd down to Flamingo, and from there take I-15 downtown. However, with traffic being much lighter than anticipated, I decided to just take LV Blvd all the way down to Main St. You know, no matter how many times I've been, I still am in awe of the sheer spectacle of it. From castles to pyramids, palaces to city skylines, there is just nothing like this special three mile bit of real estate. What made this trek down the strip so special was hearing the all the ooohs and aaahs coming from the back seat. It was just like the 4th of July, minus the boom.

For those of you who've read Part I, first off, thanks, and second, you may recall that I said the conference was at the Riviera. This is true, and though it would have been more convenient to stay there as well, I just couldn't make myself do it. First, they were getting $129 a room, which I frankly found to be a pricey for this nice, but aging property. And second, I love the Nugget.
This was my sixth stay there in the last couple of years, and from the moment we checked in I knew this was the right decision. Being a frequent flyer at the Nugget, I was able to get the casino rate of $59 per night, and they gave us the second room for $100 nightly. Not too bad considering this the busiest I've seen Vegas in some time. Hell, the GN even smelled good, with a sort of a spicy vanilla scent hovering in the air.

(I usually try to go out during off times. I usually go out during the first week in July, and again the week before Christmas. Though it is busy, it doesn't have the same frenetic every person for him/herself feel that seems to be prevalent during other times of the year.)

At check-in I asked for and got a room in the south tower overlooking the strip. Before going up to the room we all agreed to meet downstairs in a few minutes for some supper. For some reason the tasty crackers, breakfast bar, and chemically-saturated sausage link that SW offers as its in-flight cuisine was considered something less than satisfying. The room was actually a couple doors down from the one I stayed in this summer. Though I found it a little bit disconcerting that some new construction has partially obscured the east part of the strip, it was nonetheless still a terrific, no-where-else-in-the-world kind of view. After some discussion, we decided to go to the Carson Street Café coffee shop in the hotel. The service was good, and so was the food.

For this next part please allow me to set the stage a little bit. After our meal it was 10:00 during our first night in Vegas. I was with three ladies, one who have never been to Vegas before; another who had only been there once; and the third (who happens to be my wife) who hadn't been in over five years. What do you suppose they wanted to do after supper'

Perhaps experience the Fremont St. Experience' Maybe a little gaming' A trip up the Stratosphere Tower' Try none of the above. Bed. That's what they wanted to do. They wanted to go up to their rooms and go to bed because, and I quote, 'It's been such a long day.' Now, I was fully aware, as they kept reminding me, that back home it was midnight. True. Back home it was, indeed, 12:00. But you know what' WE'RE NOT BACK HOME! We're in the most exciting city in the world, and I don't care if the roosters are crowing back home, it's time to go have some fun. I'm not thinking about getting up at 6:00 to get ready for the conference. I don't care that I'll have to hook myself to a coffee IV during tomorrow's sessions to avoid being the guy in the back of the room who's snoring, drooling, and displaying other general signs of inattentiveness. What matters right now is dive into Vegas like a child hurls him/herself into a breaking ocean wave.

Unfortunately, my logic and wisdom were no match for their fatigue, so up to the room we went. I took advantage of my wife's bedtime preparation ritual to iron my four days of clothes for the conference. And once I tucked her in, kissed her on the forehead, it was time to run-walk back to the elevator which would deliver me back to Oz.

In past trip reports I've shared my love of blackjack. I won't go through the same schtick again, I suppose if you were interested you could look it up on the trip report section of this site. But in a nutshell, I love the way the game allows me to totally focus. When I'm playing I don't think 'bout nothing but whether I should hit or stand. I also fairly recently added the challenging element of trying to count the cards so I have as much advantage as possible. Once I hit Fremont St. I decided to begin my assault at the Vegas Club. It ain't the Riz or anything, or for that matter, the Venetian or Bellagio, but for me the VC holds some type of small hometown charm. I really don't care for the new monolith supercasinos that are currently in vogue, but much prefer the smaller casinos that seem to have a kind of neighborhood corner bar folksiness to them. Also, my game of preference is double deck, and most of the mega-mega places make you bet $25 a hand for the privilege. Not the VC, or for that matter, most of the downtown casinos. Reasonable table limits are to be had in every downtown casino in their double deck games.

For the past several trips I've gone to bed the first night in the hole. Don't know what it is exactly, but that's just the way it's been. Happily, that was not the case this time. In about a twenty minute session I made $50 at the Vegas Club, went next door to Binion's and nicked them for another big $5 (after being down almost a hundred), and then had a nice little $47.50 win at the Nugget before it was time to turn in. When I went to bed a little after midnight, I had a full stomach, and what I hoped would be an increasingly full wallet.

When I got back up to the room I opened the curtain and stared out at what I think is one of the beautiful scenes in the world. How often do I try to conjure up this exact same image when I'm back home in Missouri. It was the first night of four, I was ahead, my wife was sleeping contentedly in our bed, and all was right with the world. At least this little corner of it.

In Part III read about how Wayne entertains and embarrasses at the same time, how the gods of chance seek vengeance, and how Jesus gives preferential treatment to Ballys.

Part III: What Would Jesus Do'

One of the great things about Vegas is that you come away from each trip with special 'only in Vegas' memories. What follows is firmly in that category.

I said in a previous installment of this trip report that I would not spend any time talking about the conference I was attending. Though I won't say anything about the conference itself, I can't stop myself from sharing with you a special, one-of-a-kind poster that I spotted in the Riviera. I got to tell ya right off that my description won't be able to it justice, but I'll give it a shot. And as Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.

I was walking though a hallway in the Riv's convention center, minding my own business, when I saw a framed poster advertisement on top of a gold stand for someone who appeared to be Jesus Christ. As I approached the poster I was able to confirm that yes, in fact it was a picture of our Lord, at least for those of us in the Christian world, and he appeared to be floating over Ballys.

Picture this. Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, resplendent in full crucifixion garb, his palms outstretched and upward in the classic Jesus pose, hovering 300, maybe 400 feet over the Las Vegas Strip. Though an argument could be made for the Flamingo, it appears as if he is directly over Ballys, looking down on the poor sinners who undoubtedly are in those den of iniquities more commonly known as a casino. At the top of the poster are the words, 'He is risen.' The bottom of the poster gives notice that from April 9-14, The Passion Play will be performed nightly in the Grande Ballroom at 7:00 on a first come first serve basis at the Riviera Hotel & Casino.

Now please don't get me wrong, because I'm not trying to offend anyone, and will eagerly offer an apology if anyone has taken offense, but it was hard to look at this picture and not pick up on the slightest hint of irony. 'Live, for a limited engagement at the fabulous Riviera Hotel & Casino, Jesus.' He could now easily be included in that select group of special people who have that special one-name recognition: Elvis, Frank, Springsteen, Maddona, Dylan, Jesus. You get the picture. I could see this starting a new competition among the hotel owners, where they have to stage even bigger and better Jesus production shows. Perhaps even a topless number in the Temple market place so Jesus would really have something to be upset about.

Again, I apologize if anyone is upset, but this is something that you just don't normally run across here in Show-Me state. And it makes you wonder, hypothetically speaking, if Jesus went to a casino, what would his gaming experience of choice. Can you picture him sitting behind slot machine, or nestled in at a blackjack table' Or perhaps would he perform miracles at the craps or roulette tables. In any event, before I continue further pave my way down the slippery slope to you know where, I'll stop. But frankly, I don't think these evil thoughts in my head are entirely my fault. The seed was planted when I saw the poster. I've just watered and fertilized it a bit.

And speaking of one-name recognition (I like to provide my one segues), later that night we were all guests in Wayne's world. I must say that in planning for this trip I gave the ladies carte blanche in deciding what shows we should see. I told them that arguably the two shows with the best reviews were Mystere and Danny Gans, but although that helped them latch on to Mystere, they opted for Wayne instead of Danny.

One of the ladies in our party had tried on two previous occasions to see Wayne when he was scheduled to appear in Branson, MO. The first time he had to cancel the show because he had 'the floatin' eye,' the other performance was canceled because the theater burned down. Hoping that the third time would be a charm, we called in our reservations about a month ahead of time, and were happy to find that tickets were still available for his show on April 5.

First, let me make it perfectly clear that I enjoyed the show. I can't say my expectations were exceptionally high, other than to not fall asleep, but I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit to being entertained for most of the show. That being said, I'm sad to report the man has almost completely lost his singing voice. In baseball parlance, he just can't catch up to the fastball anymore. It was most noticeable when he tried to finish the song. but somewhere along the way he's voice just gives out. But, being the pro that he is, Wayne does a pretty good job covering. One of this techniques is to have his backup singers finish the songs for him. When his voice trails off, theirs picks up and takes it home. Another is to have his orchestra do the same trick, so by the time the song is done all you can hear is the crescendo of the band.


And speaking of his orchestra, I must say they were terrific. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Wayne is that he is not too proud to highlight his singers and orchestra. At different times during the show he willingly steps aside and lets them spotlight their talents. The orchestra, which includes a full row of strings (including harp), filled the room with a sharp, clean (not to mention loud) sound. Most of the people who come to the show are there to see Wayne, and could probably care less about the band. So I think it's a credit to him that he seemed to go all out in putting together a large and great sounding group of musicians. Likewise, each of his four backup singers were amazing. The male of the group, whose bass voice was so low he could make your testicles vibrate (you guys will understand), did about a 10-15 minute schtick with Wayne where he did some singing impressions. He may not have been Danny Gans, but he did a passable Elvis, Willie, Tom Jones, and Neil Diamond.

Wayne also took impressive turns on the piano, violin, guitar, and banjo. He's best known for his singing, but it was obvious the guy was a talented musician in his own right.

But maybe the most appealing part of the whole show was it just seemed to reek with old fashioned Vegas charm. Wayne comes out, does a number, kisses all the women ringing the front row, shakes hands with the men (or maybe it was the other way around), and tells us what a terrific audience we are, and periodically engages in some scripted spontaneous banter with his orchestra. He didn't come on to a Mrs. Griswold like he did in the movie, but the whole thing was just, well, it was just sooo Vegas that you had to love it.

So, I would definitely give Wayne a thumbs up.

In my previous trip report I stated that the three ladies in my traveling party didn't exactly have the kind of staying power necessary to get the most out of Vegas. Once we got back to Nugget they once again decided that it was late, and bed was the best option. And, once again, I decided that it wasn't. Maybe I should have gotten a little shut-eye, instead of the black-eyes the dealers seemed intent on giving me. Where did all those 10s and aces go' Wait. I know. They went over to the dealer's side of the table, leaving me with nothing but stiffs (12s-16s). Though it wasn't as bad as the carnage that would soon ensue. I nonetheless gave back the $100 I had made the night before, plus a little extra to help them keep the lights on.

But after I got back up the room, I once again took a quick peek outside the window, felt that warm glow inside, and went to bed with a happy heart, but emptier wallet.

If your so inclined, in Part IV you'll read about the mystery of Mystere, being eviscerated at the blackjack table, and why self-control is important at the Rio Buffet.

Part IV: Bring Me a Bucket

We have a dumb dog. She's got a wonderful personality, is good with the kids, and even is a reasonably decent watch dog. But the bottom line is, she's dumb.

Maybe dumb is a little strong. Let's just say she doesn't exhibit much self-control. Nowhere is the most apparent than in her eating habits. Although she's a dog, she eats like a pig. Unfortunately, I can't say her so-called master is much better. Or any better, if a recent trip to the Rio buffet is any indication.

Currently on the board there is raging battle over who was the best buffet. In this corner, in the blue trunks are the Bellagio buffeters, and in this corner, in the dusty gold trunks, are the Mirage fine diners. I will weigh in on this matter later, but for sheer quantity, I still think the Rio buffet is hard to beat.

Several years ago the Monty Python gang put out a movie called, The Meaning of Life. Though it wasn't nearly as good as their previous efforts, it did contain some memorable scenes. One of which was a scene where a larger than life, no, larger than two lives character played by Terry Jones was gorging himself at the table of a fine restaurant. To make more room for more food, he would occasionally ask his waiter to bring a bucket, and then he would comment to purging. At the end of the meal the waiter entices him into eating a wafer-thin dinner mint. Sadly, this mint was the culinary equivalent of the straw that broke the camel's back. In this case, it was the mint that exploded the diner's stomach. Ever since we saw that movie, when my wife and are very full, we kid each other about calling for the bucket. About 7 courses into what turned into about a 11-12 course dinner, I felt the need for the bucket. Fortunately, I was able to avoid embarrassing myself and others by foregoing the purging experience.

I'm not going to say any of the food on the Rio buffet is world class. But doesn't sheer volume count for something' Chinese, Mexica, Italian, American, English, fast, rich, healthy, is there anything they don't have' I know of no other buffet that offers as many choices as this culinary carnival. At the end of the meal you think that you'll never have to eat again. If quality is your thing, then you may be disappointed. But for selection, it simply can't be beat.

After the buffet it was off to the Venetian to walk through the Grand Canal Shoppes. If our mall in Columbia, Missouri had mimes, and opera singers, and living statues, and gondola rides, then it would still in no way compare to this rather lavish shopping experience. We didn't buy anything, but the ladies had a good time strolling through the shops. Of particular interest is a shop near the entrance where a sculptor had made elaborate works of art completely from wood. Although the items were a little out of our price range, and frankly, do you really need a wooden cowboy hat, it was worthwhile to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into each piece.

From the Venetian we went across the street to Treasure Island to see Mystere. Wow! This is another thing I would have never done on own, but I'm very glad that I went. I don't have much to add to what has already been written about this show, but I can say that it was well worth the price of admission. The feats of strength and agility were fascinating, and on more than one occasion I found myself saying 'No way!' when the performers routinely seemed to do the impossible.

If you go to the show, I would recommend the following:
1. Be seated at least 15 minutes before the show starts.
2. Don't buy any popcorn
3. Don't get tickets in the first two rows, but if you do...
4. make sure you're wearing clean underwear.

'Nough said.

After Mystere we went to the Sahara for some low limit blackjack. Two of the ladies in our party had never played before, and this now being the third night of the trip, I though it was time to finally break the ice. The Sahara was chosen because they have plenty of $1 and $2 tables. My preference would have been a $1 table, but being 10:00 on Friday night all the dollar tables were taken.

Settling into a $2 table, our two rookies quickly learned a hard lesson on why Las Vegas is able to build billion dollar hotels, skyscraping towers, and other offerings to the gods of indulgence. Basically, we all got our clocks cleaned (and wallets and purses emptied) by a hot dealer. After about 45 minutes of play we all had lost our original $20 stake, and me, Mr. Blackjack expert, had actually lost $40. But despite it all, it was a fun experience for everyone. Not nearly as fun as winning would have been, but fun nonetheless.

When we got back to Fremont St. the ladies had enough energy to come out and watch the 11:00 country themed FSE show. But that was about it for them. And in a different way, for me too, because when I came back to the GN casino I got whipped around like a hot dog wrapper in a wind storm. In less than a hour they gouged about $400 out of my wallet. You see, the thing is that when you count cards you mainly just make little token bets until the deck is favorable, and then you start increasing your bets accordingly with the deck count. I could not win a hand in a high count to save my life, or money. One time I lost consecutive bets of $20-$30-$40-$50 because the deck count kept going higher, and I still kept ending up with a fistful of stiffs. If I wasn't already, it would have driven me to drink.

As I went back to the room I was down nearly $400 for the trip, with two full days to go. And the thing about was, I wasn't hardly playing. All told, I probably hadn't played for three hours, and I was still being taken to the woodshed with impunity. Luck may be a lady, but on this particular night the lady was a tramp.

For those of you have made it this far, you may as well read the final installment, Part V. In Part V you'll hear why sex and running don't match, what the best entertainment value in all of Vegas is, and how octopus tastes with pheasant.

Part V: Sex On the Run

First of all thanks to everyone whose read the first four parts. Also, I appreciate all the kind things people have written.

In case you were worried (and even if you weren't), God hasn't struck me down for my somewhat irreverent Part III. Not that he didn't try. The evening after I posted my report the mid-Missouri area had thunderstorms, golf-ball size hail, and even a few tornadoes. But in the event that some higher being was trying to send me a message, I swear, no, make that promise,this report will not contain any religious references. So help me God.

If I'm not going to write about religion, how about sex. Or at least a whiff of it.

As I've mentioned before, there are certain things that happen in Vegas that just don't occur anywhere else. A few years ago while I was taking my early morning jog down the strip I happened upon a dead body lying on the sidewalk with a LVPD blanket covering him up. Strangely enough, as far as I could tell, there wasn't any official type person around to tend to the dearly departed. On my return run back up the strip the coroner had arrived and were taking him to his final resting place. I usually jog 3-4 miles everyday, and in all that time I've never had to hop over a corpse in my path.

As a general rule, I usually don't get solicited for sex when I'm running either. Come to think of it, I don't think I had ever been solicited for sex while I was running. Those things just don't happen in Missouri. They do (and did) last Saturday in Vegas.

Here's the scene. On Saturday our conference ended at 1:30. After my wife picked us up in the rental from the Riv, I asked her to drive me up Paradise, take a right at Flamingo and then drop me off at the corner of Flamingo and LV Blvd so I could jog back to the Golden Nugget from there. Traffic being heavy, I bailed at Koval and Flamingo and began my run. It was a chilly/windy/drizzly sort of day, but once I got down to the Venetian or so I had started to warm up. As I settle into my pace things were relatively uneventful, until I was a block or so south of the Olympic Gardens. As those who have read and enjoyed JRinCT's reports, the OG is a gentleman's club. Outside of the OG was a heavily made-up woman, maybe in her mid 30s (at best), who was walking a step or two into the street when traffic was passing by, looking like she was trying to hail down a cab. Let's just say a taxi ride wasn't exactly what she had in mind.

After I passed her, not being sure I saw what I just thought I saw, I turned around to take a second look. She saw my head turn, and immediately began to beckon me with a hand motion and come hither look in her eyes. First of all, as my wife will tell you, I'm a happily married man. Second, as a general rule, I usually don't carry a lot of extra cash on me while I'm running. And third, although I fully expected to come home without some of the money I brought, I did not want to come home with a social disease I didn't bring.

It was actually kind of sad. For someone to advertize her wares as brazenly as she did, I have to assume she lives her life in constant desperation. It was quite obvious that being picked up by the police was not a concern. Vegas is a terrific city, and I go back tomorrow if I could, and happily buy my friends on the LVOL board a drink, but you don't have to look very far to find examples of how far a person's sense of dignity and humanity can fall. I know that can, and does, happen anywhere. But it still takes a little bloom off this desert rose.

After our brief encounter, I plodded on toward Fremont St. and the GN. Though no world records were threatened, I eventually made it back to our hotel, showered, and prepared for a once in a lifetime meal.

As previously mentioned, there currently is a debate over whose buffet is better: Bellagio or Mirage. All can say is this, the Mirage may have tastier food, but as charter member of the John Q. Public society, I can tell you that the Bellagio buffet is one of the most memorable dining experiences our happy party of four has ever had. A couple of years ago I remember seeing an interview with Steve Wynn in which he said that people wouldn't mind spending more if they were ensured a memorable experience. Our 90 minute lunch/dinner at the Bellagio was one of the most extraordinary events of the whole trip. It was memorable, to say the least.

I can't say, with the possible exception of the desserts, that the food tasted that much better than I've had on other buffets. But the selection of exotic dishes was incredible. In addition to the standard fare of prime rib, snow crab, chicken, etc., the buffet also offered ample portions of shark, octopus, and pheasant. They also offered unusual vegetable selections such as pesto mash, purple mashed potatoes, and leek ravioli w/ scallops. Let's see you try and get these things off your Golden Corral at home.

Our mature party of four became rather giddy as we freely sampled one exotic selection after another off each other's plates. And when it came dessert time, well let's just say that 'buckets all around' was the order of the day. Off the dessert bar our abdominally blossoming group took samples of creme puffs, eclairs, chocolate chiffon cake, chocolate bombs, key lime pie, bread pudding (Thank you Mrs. Wynn), fruit cups, and apple strudel pie. This from the same group of people who normally get by with an apple and cup of yogurt for lunch.

Again, as far as quality goes, I'm not going to make the argument the Bellagio is at the top of the buffet heap. But for those who've never tried it, I can guarantee that your first visit will be the centerpiece of your 'how was Vegas' conversations when you get home.

If you decide to go, I would highly recommend that you try and hit the buffet around 3:45-4:00. Even on a busy Saturday afternoon, we were able to walk right in. Plus, as a special bonus, we also caught them changing from lunch to dinner, so we got to sample some of the special dinner fare (read, Snow Crab) for lunchtime prices. Also, when we finally rolled out of the buffet at around 5:30, the line was stretched all the way down the hall, and around the corner.

And by the way, as a teaser for Part V I said that you would need to read this part to find out what beer goes with Octopus. I apologize, but it was a trick question. Being from St. Louis area, the correct answer, of course, is Budweiser. I hope you don't feel cheated.

After the buffet we strolled over to the Paris so my wife and colleague could take a quick walk through. They both took a 10-day trip to the real Paris this fall so they wanted to see what the hotel was like. They liked it. I didn't make much of an impression on me, but then I'm not your typical Alpha-male type.

From the Paris we went up to the Tropicana for their 8:00 Comedy show. For $15, I think this is one of the best entertainment values in all of Vegasdom. For less than a quarter of the cost it tales to see two German pals make tigers disappear, you get to laugh nonstop for almost 90 minutes. By the end of the show I had laughed so hard my cheeks hurt. (No, not those cheeks. Shame on you!)

As is usually the case, I'm not able to remember many of the jokes, but I do recall the headliner did a hilarious bit about a man in Florida who had to be rescued after he got his penis stuck inside a water flow hole in the hotel pool he was saying at. 'You know folks, that was no accident.' 'How do you suppose the rescue crew decided whose job it was to actually remove the aforementioned appendage from the pool'' And so on.

I also recall a couple of dumb blonde jokes that I'll share. 'Two blondes walked into a building........you think one of them would have seen it.' And, 'A blonde goes into a library, walks over the to main desk, and says, 'I want a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke.' When the clerk fails to response, she again, but this time more loudly demands, 'I WANT A CHEESEBURGER, FRIES, AND A COKE.' Finally, with total disgust in her eyes, the librarian looks at her and says, 'Ma'am, this is a library.' Finally realizing her mistake, the blonde leans over the counter, and whispers into the librarian's ear, 'I want a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke.''

It may not be Lenny Bruce, but it will do in Vegas on a Saturday night.

After the comedy show we went back to the Golden Nugget, caught the Vegas Legends FSE show, and then did something I had never done before during all of my Vega stays. I went straight to the room to go to bed without first playing any blackjack. In fact, this early turn-in meant I didn't play any blackjack all day. This is unprecedented. I went up to bed early for three reasons, two of which I'll share with you. One, after three consecutive nights of 4-5 hours of sleep, I was actually feeling a little tired, and fatigue, a few Buds, and counting cards does not mix. Two, when you do count cards, it is always best to play either heads-up with the dealer, or with only 1 or 2 other people at the table. When you play at a crowded table, by the time the decks turns positive the dealer is usually close to reshuffle, and then you have start all over again. It was my plan to go to bed, get up a couple of hours, and then get some gaming in before the last session of our conference.

So if you thought it wouldn't be possible to spend a day in Vegas without gambling, and to have a great time to boot, and can tell you firsthand that you can. During this day I was offered sex while on the run, mixed my shark with pheasant, and laughed until I hurt. Not a bad day at all.

(When I started this installment I fully intended for it to be the last one, but I've changed mymind. I plan to post Part VI (I promise this will be the last one) on Monday. In the 6th and final part you'll read about the strangest thing I've ever witnessed at a blackjack table, how it would have been better to give a GN dealer half of my money for kick in the groin, and how defeat can actually feel like victory)

Part VI: "One Hand On the Cards Please"

Thanks again to everyone who's read the first five parts of this trip report. If you see it through to the end, and actually finish the sixth (and last) installment, you'll have read the equivalent of one chapter of a book. I wonder if I could get on Oprah' I'm not sure if I should apologize or charge a fee. When I first started this report on the airplane I thought this would actually be shorter than TRs I've done in the past, but it has actually turned out to be longer. Sorry, but my cup runneth over, if not my cup, at least my word processor. I'm not sure why I've gotten so wordy, but I reckon it has something to do with the subject matter. Have you ever gone to a movie theater right after lunch' You walk into the theater with a full stomach, but as soon as that special only-in-a-theater aroma hits, you just have to get yourself a bucket of popcorn. Well, I guess Vegas is the same for me. Even though I spent my majority of time at a conference, and really didn't think I'd have much to write about, once I got going I found it hard to stop. Simply put, I guess that Vegas is my muse. An oftentimes beautiful, occasionally ugly, but always interesting source of inspiration.

The last day of our trip started bright and early at 5:00 in the morning. My plan was to get down to the casino for an early morning session of blackjack. For obvious reasons, I had played less blackjack on this trip than any I had taken since my first visit to this fair city when I was a 12-year old boy (but mature for my age) on a one-night stopover during a family vacation to California. Most of my daylight hours were taken up with the conference, which actually was a labor of love because I was getting many good ideas to unleash on our school district upon my return. Most of my evening time was spent with the three ladies of my party as we wined, dined, and did the Vegas show thing. You'll recall that Saturday was a day of historic proportions, as I went the whole day without playing one hand of blackjack. It was akin to nymphomaniac taking a leisurely stroll through an army barracks without spending any quality time with any of our brave, but lonely fighting man. If that analogy didn't work for you, how 'bout it was like my wife spending an entire day in the mall without buying a new outfit; or from wife's point of view, her husband, with the remote comfortably resting in the palm of his hand, spending a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV without changing channels. I think you get the picture. If not, insert up your own analogy.

In short, it was time to get in some blackjack.

I got down to the casino by 5:30 and quickly learned that at this early hour there were only two kinds of gamers. Those, like me, who had gotten up early to get a headstart on the day, and those who hadn't been to bed yet. It wasn't too hard to pick one out from the other. For example, sitting at third base at my first table of the day was a man who looked as if he had been mixing beer with prozac, with a little lithium thrown in for good measure. He wasn't necessarily incoherent, but then again he wasn't totally coherent either. He was kind of suspended somewhere in the middle.

In any event, it soon became evident that this early morning wake-up call may not have been such a good idea. In less than 30 minutes I had surrendered my original stake of $100, and soon chased it with another $100 buy-in. I was now into the game for $200, and on farms across this great country of hours roosters were still sleeping on their perch. It was at this point when a very bizarre incident took place. In fact, it was the most unusual thing that I had ever witnessed at a blackjack table.

Shortly after my second century buy-in my table mate's brother happened buy. It was soon evident that in addition to uncanny physical resemblance, the two brothers also shared a similar blood/alcohol content. If blackjack worked under the same principles of operating a motor vehicle, these two would have been pulled over and ticketed for GUI, Gaming Under the Influence. But due to the generosity of the Golden Nugget, and the diligence of their cocktail waitresses, these guys were absorbing alcohol at a faster rate than a patched field in the dust bowl after a thunder storm. These guys were like two kids seemingly intent on devouring the whole basket of Easter candy before lunchtime.

As my second $100 began making its way from my side of the table to casino's, something very strange took place. After the dealer distributed the second face down card to the three players at the table (this was a double deck game), she told the brother who had just joined the game that he could only use one hand to hold the cards. Feigning ignorance, the player looked at her and asked, 'What did you say'' She again said that he could only use one hand to hold the cards. He then held up what remained of his left hand and showed God, the world, the dealer, and anyone else who was happening by that he only had one hand.

This guy had no left hand, at least none to speak of. He had no fingers, and there was just a slight stub where his thumb had once been. It was obvious that he had been in some type of accident, probably some type of burn mishap, because all of the skin on his left arm was disfigured. As he held up what remained of his left hand, he looked at the dealer and said, 'You can't get me on THAT one, now can ya!'

Although he was amused, I thought his brother was going to laugh up a kidney. It was if he had just mainlined some Sodium Pentothal. To say the least, the dealer was somewhat taken aback. You don't often see these guys flustered, but this nice little lady from Myrtle Beach (SC) was totally embarrassed. When the pit boss happened by to ask what had happened, the dealer said she'd rather not say, and got to be humiliated again when my inebriated playing partner joyfully replayed the whole incident. This, of course, set the brother off all over again, laughing like a hyena. A tired, drunk hyena.

This unfortunately turned out to be the highlight of this table, because my second hundred went the way of the first. I thought of going back up to the room to do some packing, but thought I'd try at least one more table.

For the short term this looked to be a good decision, after winning back the $200 I had just left at the table with the Deliverance twins, and then some. This would have been a good time to stop. It would have been, which of course means I didn't. I had a about twenty minutes before it was time to leave for the conference when we switched dealers. Lori from California had been good to me, and when she didn't deal me 19-21s, she more often than not was busting. Then came Loras. Remember the scene in Vegas vacation when the dealer offers to save Clark the time and trouble of losing all his money by only taking half of it, and then going back out back and kicking him in the groin. I wish Loras had offered me a similar deal. It would have certainly been less costly and painful than the whipping he gave me. When he came I had 10 $25 stacks of $5 dollar chips neatly placed in front of me. I was able to squirrel away the $100 buy-in back into my pocket. Then disaster struck, and struck hard. By this time Loras and I were playing one-on-one, which is suppose to be good when the deck count is running positive, which it was. With every hand the deck count kept getting higher, and so did my bets, till eventually where once stood 10 proud stacks of chips, now only a memory was left behind in their absence. Loras beat me 9 consecutive hands, the last three of which took place when the deck count was 10+, which means I had a huge advantage over the house. An advantage, yes; a sure thing, no.

In less than the time it takes to go through the drive though lane at McDonalds' I had lost $250. I was tempted to reach back into my and put my original stake back into play, but common sense and time constraints prevented me from doing so. When I woke up this morning I was down $450 for the trip. Even had I not played at all, this would have been one of my worse trips in many years. But now, after my early morning sessions, I was heading to the conference $650 to the bad. I had come out with a stake of $1000, with another possible $1000 to throw-in in case of emergency, and I seemed dangerously close to coming home with nothing but some nice memories.

After the last morning session, of which only 93 of the original 950 conference-goers remained, we had about two hours to kill before we needed to go out to the airport for our 4:15 return flight to KC. Rather than accompany the ladies for lunch, I told them that I wanted to spend the last couple hours playing. Agreeing to give me time off for good behavior, my wife consented to the deal. While they went off to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, I went into the Imperial Palace to look for a good double deck game.

I was immediately disappointed when I found that the only double decks were at tables with a $25 minimum. I may have been desperate, but not that desperate. Instead of playing that a table that I knew was to rich for my blood, I settled into a six-deck game to see if anything would happen. At first it did, and it was mostly bad. After a couple shuffles I had lost another $100, and was watching my second $100 blow away like dust in a wind storm. I was now down nearly $850, with about an hour still to go before we left for McCarren.

I would love to say that it was at this point where things totally turned around and I was actually able to come out ahead for the trip. I'd love to say it, but I can't. What I can say is that my luck did change, and I was able to cash out of this last game with a $350 profit. This was by far my best table of the trip, and I think by the end of run I was beginning to get a little unwanted attention from the pit boss. It must first be said that all counters are a little paranoid about being asked to leave the table. This happened once to me a couple of years ago; it wasn't a happy experience. But as my stack of chips grew (I was even putting some away in my pocket), the pit boss seemed to by spending more time at our table. It is entirely possible that he was only interested because I was winning a little bit. It is also possible that he was only checking up on the dealer to make sure the was doing his job correctly. But when the one pit boss was relieved by another, I saw him looking over at our table as he was talking to her, and when he left she cam over and began standing to my immediate right.

Again, I'm not saying this meant anything at all, but rather than suffer the indignity of being backed off (told to leave), and seeing as how it was almost time to meet the ladies anyway, I cashed out.

At the beginning of the trip if someone would have asked me would I be happy with a $300 loss, I would have said, 'Hell no.' However, having been down nearly $900, with $1000 looming as a distinct possibility in the horizon, this actually felt like a victory. Considering (or maybe because of) how little I played, and all the other good times I had, I was more than happy to get on the plane just a little bit lighter in the wallet.

So that's it. Near as I can figure, this was about my 25th trip to Vegas. Like all other, I came away with special memories. In a large sense, this is why I like doing trip reports. Writing them is a way to set one trip apart from the others. This one will undoubtedly be remembered for Wayne, Mystere, the Bellagio buffet, Jesus over the strip, and the one-handed blackjack player.

As of today I'm at T-76. The way it's shaping this is going to be another solo trip. But the funny thing is that I'm as anxious for this next adventure as I have been for any of the 25 that preceded it. I acknowledge that it may be some type of illness, mental deficiency, or gross character flaw, but I swear that if I won a round trip ticket to any where in the world, there's no question what my destination of choice would be.

Thanks again to everyone who's read this report. I also appreciate the many comments that have been made. I hope you've enjoyed it. May the gods of chance shine on you.